It was strange but understandably ironic when the Smiths came over the PA before the second support act of the evening. Whitehorse play an underground doom metal where the riffs are informed by the electronic instrumentation and progress at a ploddingly slow pace. Bald, bearded and bellied vocalist Peter Hyde donned a Sissy Spacek top.
That aesthetic divide extended somewhat into the crowd, sorting the hipsters i.e. those punters wearing lighter colours, generally less robust in stature who have been guided by the light shone by online tastemakers, from those there to praise at the throne of darkness, i.e. gauged lobes and wearing black band shirts in a non-Melbourne way.
This division dissolved, though, as the San Fran-based Deafheaven took the stage to universal applause, diving straight into Sunbather‘s blistering opener Dream House. It was an ambitious move, playing perhaps their best song first, but one Deafheaven benefited from.
‘Nothing Was Ever The Same’ read lead guitarist Kerry McCoy‘s shirt as he headed and handled the music alongside the rest of the band. It was a layering of twinkling guitars that easily rose to a deafening yet ethereal soundscape.
When combined with the bombastic drumming, the sound was akin to an older, sturdier cousin of Explosions In The Sky, enough to make a strong argument that black metal, when mixed with shoegaze, can create a compelling ambience. Witnessed live though, its effect was even greater than on record.
Vocalist George Clarke immediately captured the crowd’s attention. He’s one helluva charismatic frontman, not in a charming and vocal manner a la Morrissey but more a silent yet commanding one. Clad in all-black with no band insignias and a pair of black gloves, Clarke moved continuously, seamlessly shifting between an unhinged roving as if to let flight the first punch, and jerky almost-dancing moves, thrusting his arms out and pulling them in as if commanding the climax in the songs.
As the band continued to perform Sunbather in full from start to finish, Clarke’s theatricalities almost seemed ritualistic and religious. His doglegged lean on the amps whilst metal-growling into the mic, and his scattershot and projectile spitting, made for a visceral viewing experience.
The lasting image of the evening came when he stood peacefully atop the heaving crowd, whilst crowdsurfers chaotically trampled atop them. It was a photo opportunity, for sure, yet few if any iPhones were held up for the set’s duration. It wasn’t really that type of gig.
Clarke’s first (decipherable) words for the set came late in the set, the obligatory gratitude for our being there to witness their maiden trip to Australia. Deafheaven then proceeded with their last song, album closer The Pecan Tree, launching into it headfirst with monochromatic lights flashing like sunbeams overhead.
10 minutes later the band triumphantly headed offstage to a rapturous response, the crowd chanting “one last song” and beckoning the band, who returned to fulfil that duty with only one last immersive number. Pity, as even 10 minutes more of this genre-bending atmospheric metal act would have been a real treat.